October 11th, 2008
05:20 PM ET
12 years ago

McCain calls on Obama to repudiate 'shocking' Lewis comments

Lewis and McCain traded tough statements Saturday.

Lewis and McCain traded tough statements Saturday.

(CNN) - John McCain – who has often praised civil rights icon John Lewis – called a statement by the Georgia congressman Saturday comparing the outbursts at recent Republican rallies to the rhetoric of segregationist George Wallace “a brazen and baseless attack” that is “shocking and beyond the pale.”

Lewis issued his statement after several days of headline-grabbing anger directed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama by some attendees at McCain campaign rallies.

"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. [Sarah] Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis said in a statement.

Watch: McCain defends Obama at campaign event

"George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama," wrote the Democrat.

McCain has written about Lewis, praising his actions at Selma during the civil rights movement. The Republican nominee even said during a summer faith forum that Lewis was one of three men he would turn to for counsel as president.

But the Arizona senator blasted the congressman’s remarks, and called on Obama to repudiate them. "Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale,” he said in a Saturday afternoon statement released by his campaign.

(Updated with Obama camp reaction after the jump)

“The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.

"I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

McCain himself seemed to be looking to calm frustrated Republicans Friday, telling supporters at a campaign rally that the Democratic nominee was a "good man," and that they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency.

Update: Obama's campaign said he did not agree with the comparison made by Lewis - but did not repudiate the congressman's remarks.

“Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’

"As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Senator Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead."

Filed under: John Lewis • John McCain • Popular Posts
soundoff (960 Responses)
  1. Scy

    McCain has become small and pitiful. John Lewis spoke the truth and McCain the coward hides behind Sarah the Stupid. Look what you've become John. Who are you?

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  2. Eric

    I suppose the silver lining in this is that McCain can only shrink his support by encouraging extremism.

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  3. Independent for Obama

    Why should Obama retract a statement that he himself did not state????

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  4. D&D

    Tuth always hurts, didn't McCain know it?

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  5. christine pedersen

    Lewis was right....McCain allowed Palin to incite crowds and she just smiled as "crazies" shouted dispicable things......they both allowed the atmosphere to fester and it wasn't until McCain felt the backlash that he decided to make any attempt to try to stop the hate that he and Palin seeded..............how sad that we still have this type of behavior
    in our political process......what a horrible example of democracy this is to our youth.......I expect more from those who want to represent the USA.........

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  6. Ron , West Coast

    John McBush is really out of touch,,,,,, As demostrated by his misunderstood perception of John Lewis`s well explained displeasure of the explosive race baiting tenure of he and Sarah Palins week or more of lies and desparate attempts to , gather support for his failing campaign .
    He should have realized that we are living in the twenty first century , not back in the days of lynching American citizens just because of their color .
    John McBush / Sarah Palin , really need to stop and think about the consicquences of their ill-concieved attempt to demonize Barack Obama .....

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  7. DP

    Any chance that McCain and Palin had of getting my vote are now gone forever. McCain and Palin should be ashamed of themselves. This is exactly what happens when you sow the seeds of lies, distortion and hatred. Palin's action in particular are completely inconsistent with the Christian faith that she professes so profoundly. With McCain being 70+ years old, could you imagine a country run by Palin? America would be the laughing stock of the world. McCain should immediately apologize to the country for inciting horrible memories from generations past. This is sShameful and disgraceful for our country and the political process.

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  8. Tochi

    McCain surrogates have been openly promoting politics of fear. Fear worked in 2004 and they want to go to the same playbook.

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  9. SP

    McCain hasn't tried to encourage hatred, he has tried to bring up legitimate questions, and Obama is the one who has been dishonest. Fact – Obama was friendly with Bill Ayers and had a far deeper relationship than just living in the same neighborhood. Maybe in your opinion that is not an issue that your care about which is fine. In SOME voters opinions that relationship and the dishonesty that accompanied it is an issue. Raising the issue and allowing voters to decide is what democracy is about. Trying to supress any negative comment under the banner of racism is despicable and Obama's supporters should ask themselves what they really stand for....

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  10. karela

    John McCain has for years talked about how much he respects John Lewis and the things he has done. He has cited Lewis's name during this campaign as a man he counts as a friend. John Lewis has been through the wars in this country. He has been on the receiving end of violence. When John Lewis, and every political spokesperson in the country outside the McCain campaign, says that McCain and Palin are provoking people to violence, John McCain should listen. Instead of attacking Lewis, McCain should look in the mirror and in his heart. John McCain knows better than what he's doing. He gave his campaign over to Rove likes/Bush likes and they're taking McCain places he said he'd never go. If John McCain doesn't want to be compared to George Wallace, he should stop doing George Wallace like things. At a time when so many people are fearful, it is a grave mistake to whip them from fear to blaming all their problems on Obama to rage–and violence could be close behind. Stop it while you still can John. You've always liked and respected John Lewis. Consider that he's seen it all before and maybe he's right now too.

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  11. jason

    OH POOR BABY MCCAIN>......its OK for you to slam Obama but NOT ok for others....you two-faced angry old man, go hide your face in shame somewhere !!!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  12. Justin from CT

    Wallace came around and admitted he was racist, McCain has yet to do so.

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  13. greenwalk

    See McCain, see what you started. If only you had run an honest campaign, none of this would have happened.

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  14. Obama Supporter

    Racism is alive and well. I believe mccain/palin is trying to incite a riot. However, Obama/Biden will win in landslide.

    I continue to hear mccain/palin talk about everything, but the issues that face America. I believe that they do not have any idea to help America. I heard palin say today, "they will clean up our trillion dollars of debt in their first term."

    I do not care to hear anything that she speaks about. I also believe that she continues to ask the question, "who is Barrack Obama?" I really would like to know who is "Sarah Palin." I need her to go back to Alaska and look for Russia from her house and give Monegan his job back. Oh!!!!!! please take the first dude with you.

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  15. Watching Closely

    This is good. This is really good. It's like purging out the remaining ills within our society. Boil up the scum and scrape it off the top. The Dixiecrats have emerged, their children have embraced a better day, and a healthier mindset and it ills them that they've chosen a better value system. The McCain/Palin ticket have forced them out of hiding. They yell insults such as 'terrorists' and 'socialist'. They invoke fear in the hearts of others and use threats to express their own fears. They say things like 'he's Muslim, 'he's Arab', 'that one', and 'I'm angry that 'That Obama' has gotten where he is'. The faux Republicans are horribly fearful of what's to come, not realizing that they fear their own shadows. We knew you were hiding inside the Republican Party, posing as Christians. When this is over, in about a year, we will be on our way to a better America. You will be left behind.

    October 11, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  16. Bea in Virginia

    Deal with it McKKKain– you and your dimwitted pit bull in lipstick have riled up the your followers into a dangerous frenzy by feeding their racist fears.

    Rep Lewis was 100% right to call you on it.

    October 11, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  17. Ridgeway

    From the state that brought us Cynthia McKinney comes John Lewis another mental midget. The guy is barely articulate and remains stuck in the 60's. He's a racist of the highest order and I am disappointed McCain would pander to him. I don't know what McCain expected. If you lay down with dogs you get fleas. Shock of shocks a Black guy supporting Obama.

    October 11, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  18. McCain scares me


    I no longer feel safe with John McCain in the United States. The Klan sees him as their new leader and it would be a shame that a vote for McCain is a vote for the Klan.

    How do we as concerned citizens have McCain arrested?

    Thank you in advance!

    October 11, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  19. Concerned in North Carolina

    Representative John Lewis told the truth. The people at the McCain/Plain campaign events have begun to behave as if they were at KKK rallies. The McCain/Pain rallies have become Obama hatefests. Genetically, Obama is just has much White as he is Black. Some of the people who "fear" or hate him the most will benefit much more from an Obama presidency that they would a McCain presidency. Forget about race, think about your economic interest.

    October 11, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  20. frank J

    Message from the Alien world...Palin will never be welcomed by any country outside of the USA

    October 11, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  21. Richard Johnson

    Racism still exist. It is in the hearts and mind of many. But we need change. Barack Obama as president will give a new face worldwide of America. Electing him as President can be a dose of medicine throughout the United States that will minimize the effects of racism. It is not surprising that the sixpackers showed up shouting racist remarks.

    October 11, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  22. Jason

    These guys have no shame.

    October 11, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  23. polar bears 08

    Good going Mr. Lewis!

    October 11, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  24. Delbert


    October 11, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  25. jagdish, Bellevue, WA

    silly...you can dish it but can't take it ??

    October 11, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
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